News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 5, 2012

Colts look nothing like team of old with workouts under way

Tom James
Tribune-Star Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS — For the first time since last month’s massive roster purge, Indianapolis Colts players — both those that are returning as well as some of the newer additions — were available to talk about the franchise’s immediate future during an open lockerroom session Wednesday.

The Colts officially began off-season workouts Monday, which gave veterans such as defensive end Robert Mathis, safety Antoine Bethea and cornerback Jerraud Powers a chance to get a head start in learning the team’s new 3-4 (three down linemen and four linebackers) system.

They’ll be getting help from two former Baltimore Ravens who played for Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano last year. Defensive end Corey Redding and safety Tom Zbikowski signed with the Colts last month. A third former Ravens defender — nose tackle Brandon McKinney — is reportedly close to joining the team as well. McKinney (6-2, 350) played four years in Baltimore.

Redding and Zbikowski are excited to be following Pagano to Indianapolis, They’ll serve as on-field examples for the Colts’ defensive coaching staff, led by first-year coordinator Greg Manusky.

“They’re soaking it up. They are literally learning right now, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s about learning the base [defense]. Right now, it’s about work. It’s getting into the playbook, learning the playbook, studying the playbook. It’s about watching tape, watching film,” Redding explained.

When the off-season practices began this week, Pagano handed out T-shirts to each of the players. The Colts’ new motto — “Building A Monster” — is prominent on the back of each shirt.

“[The motto is] about the mentality. Either get with it or say goodbye,” Zbikowski said Wednesday. The former Notre Dame standout added that he doesn’t mind NFL observers dismissing the Colts’ chances of having a winning season in 2012.

“It’s the best thing. I hope they do,”the hard-hitting safety voiced, saying that he isn’t buying into the talk of Indianapolis being involved in a rebuilding mode. “I don’t even know what those words [rebuilding] mean.”

Neither does Mathis, who re-signed with the Colts last month. He’ll be playing a new position — outside linebacker.

 “I feel like a freshman all over again,” he joked. “[The new defense] is a lot more wide open than in the past.”

After deciding to stay in Indianapolis, it was initially thought that Mathis would wind up in the same type of role that Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs plays. But it appears now that defensive end Dwight Freeney will be that guy with the Colts.

Redding believes having two players with the skills of Mathis and Freeney playing the same type of role is a good thing.

“Who do you block? They’re both great speed pass rushers off the edge. Offensive-line coaches are going to have to pick and choose who they want to single block. Either one is very talented. It’s going to make our defense that much tougher to play against,” he said.

One thing is clear. Despite what many believe, Mathis doesn’t view the 2012 season as the start of something new.

“Can’t stand [the idea of a rebuilding season]. We’re all professional football players. I didn’t come here to lose any games,” he said.

• Preseason schedule released — The NFL and Colts released the team’s 2012 preseason schedule. Official dates and times have yet to be finalized, but Indianapolis will face the Rams, Steelers, Redskins and Bengals.

The Colts’ game at Washington, which will be televised nationally by NBC Sports, will feature the top two quarterbacks in this year’s draft — Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. Indianapolis is expected to take Luck, who was put through his paces during a private workout for Colts coaches and administrators Tuesday.

Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay maintains that the team has not yet decided on either Luck or Griffin.